Greg's bite: where Apple leads, PCs follow
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Greg's bite: where Apple leads, PCs follow

By Greg Mills

When Apple obsoletes technology a groan generally goes up from both people used to the status quo and hardware companies that are directly affected. Remember the demise of floppy drives and the near death of FireWire? Such a groan went up when Apple recently launched the new MacBook Air laptops that, like iPad, iPods and the Apple TV uses flash memory instead of a hard drive.  

While the cost for storage using flash memory is higher per gig of memory, there are distinct advantages to going with solid state memory instead of a mechanical rotating disk that is prone to crash. In time, all hard drives will fail. A hard bump at just the wrong time can sometimes destroy a hard drive and leave the user with a sudden data loss. Sometimes a strange noise will give a warning, but the sudden hard drive crash without a warning is common.

I am lucky, so far, and have never had a hard drive go bad, but there are a lot of folks that have had a hard drive disaster happen to them. Backing up you computer is critical to minimizing the catastrophic loss of a hard drive. Theft is the other major issue where a large amount of data can be lost without notice. It costs a bundle to have a hard drive recovery company nurse the data out of a crashed hard drive. 

While hard drive prices have recently gone down considerably and the size of the memory provided has gone up, Apple still chose to ax the devices on the MacBook Air for a number of reasons. Size is one major issue. While tiny hard drives have been used in iPods and could have been used in the new MacBook Airs, solid state memory is installed on the motherboard and requires less space. In addition to the size issue, flash memory is twice as fast at booting up and accessing stored memory is even faster. Apple has led the way in computers that are always faster, lighter, thinner, have better displays, longer battery life and fewer moving parts. The nearly instant on feature of iPad is coming to laptops. 

Where the MacBook Air has gone is where the rest of the Apple line of computers is bound to go.  Expect more flash memory as time goes on. Flash memory is not 100% failure proof, but has a longer life expectancy and failure rate than hard drives. Flash memory is almost immune to shock damage. Apple is the greatest consumer of flash memory in the world and has locked up the future supply with the largest manufactures. With Apple hogging the world supply of the critical solid state memory, it makes it hard for competitors to launch and build competitive devices in numbers that threaten Apple.  

Flash memory is used in AppleTV, iPod, iPad and the new  MacBook Air laptops. With Apple's entrance into designing its own silicon microprocessors, it is not a great stretch to see some vertical development of critical and sometimes scarce parts, such as flash memory. That could take the form of buying a large flash memory manufacturing company outright, or simply opening their own plant and producing their flash memory at manufacturing cost. 

Apple recently tends to shock the market with very competitive prices and advanced hardware, backed up by thoughtful software. Holding the line or cutting the competition off at the ankles with low prices can be supported by making their own memory chips. Remember the slate computers that were under development by a number of competitors that were canceled when the found out  that Apple was launching iPad at US$500 for the basic unit? With assembly prices going up at Foxconn in China, Apple must raise the prices of its hardware, cut its profit numbers or save money on parts. Look for them to make their own memory chips.  

That's Greg's Bite for today.

(Greg Mills, is a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup, using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's art web site at ; His email is )


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